Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why I Won't Be Blogging for the Foreseeable Future

I don’t post a lot of pictures, especially of my kids, but in this particular case, a picture really is worth a thousand words:) (Besides, newborns all kind of look the same, don’t they?) I’m pleased to introduce you to Baby Number Three, whom I will affectionately call Monster around the Internet. (He has a real name, honest, but you know how much I like nicknames. And Monster is the name our four-year-old suggested when we asked him what he thought we should name the baby.)

The delivery was uneventful--or at least it was after the anesthesia finally worked. (For some unknown reason, the spinal took five extra minutes to kick in. (I didn’t particularly care for those five extra minutes.)) Monster was born just after daybreak on Wednesday, January 11. He was a whopping eight pounds, seven ounces, which is almost a full pound heavier than Lady was when she was born, and he was twenty-one inches long.

Ironically enough, Monster has been the least monster-ish of all our kids. He actually sleeps sometimes, and he hardly ever cries. Still, I don’t plan to blog for the next couple of months. I need time to adapt to my new normal.

I’ll be back later this spring, probably sometime around April, and as I mentioned once before, I already have some interviews and additional rounds of “An Agent’s Inbox” in the works. Until then, I hope you all have a great first-few-months-of-2012. I’m sure we will.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Book Recommendation: ICEFALL by Matthew J. Kirby

Before I take my blogging break, I wanted to share one last book recommendation with you. I first heard about ICEFALL after reading Jenilyn’s review, and even though I hadn’t been too crazy about Mr. Kirby’s debut, she spoke so highly of ICEFALL that I decided to give it a try. That turned out to be a good decision on my part.

ICEFALL features young Solveig, a Viking princess with a penchant for storytelling. When a neighboring tribe attacks her father’s kingdom, Solveig and her two siblings--her younger brother, the kingdom’s heir, and their older sister--wind up at their father’s stronghold with a handful of servants and soldiers, all of them handpicked from among the court’s most trusted inner circle. With the fjord frozen over until the spring, the winter appears to be a long and boring one--until they discover they have a traitor in their midst.

That was my favorite element of ICEFALL--how the story morphed into an Agatha-Christie-style mystery. The cast of characters was fairly limited, and none of them seemed to have a motive for betraying the royal family, so the questions flew on ravens’ wings. I also loved the novel’s world building. Solveig’s world and time were lush with all kinds of little details that made me believe Mr. Kirby knew what he was talking about. In fact, reading ICEFALL made me want to write a Viking story of my own:)

If you love MG mysteries set against richly layered backdrops, definitely give ICEFALL a read. And if you have any other MG titles to recommend, feel free to leave them in the comments!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Agent-Author Chat: Tricia Lawrence and Adam Heine

Today’s interview features an awesome agent-author duo, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency and one of her newest clients, Adam Heine. Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Heine came to work together in a slightly unorthodox way (which you can read about below), so instead of focusing on his query letter, we’re going to hear a little more about Mr. Heine’s overall querying experience--and how Ms. Lawrence came to be a part of it.

BUT if you’d like to check it out, you can find Mr. Heine's query on Matthew MacNish’s helpful and informative blog, The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. (And guys, it’s a good query. You’ll want to check it out.)

All right, back to the interview! Mr. Heine’s answers will appear in orange and Ms. Lawrence’s in blue.

KV: Mr. Heine, how did you first come up with the idea for AIR PIRATES?

AH: The world was a conglomeration of a bunch of things. I wanted airships, like Miyazaki's CASTLE IN THE SKY. I wanted cool characters with dark pasts, like COWBOY BEBOP (this is all anime, if you're not tracking yet). I wanted pirates like, well, Disney's PIRATES.

But my viewpoint character, for whom the world of airships and pirates was brand new, became this cowardly bookworm who believed he wasn't good at anything and never would be--everything I was as a teenager. And I realized I wanted to take him on the same journey I took to learn that he can be good at anything if he really wants to (though his journey involves a lot more sword fights and explosions than mine did).

KV: Tell us a little bit about your querying experience. How many queries did you send? Did you send them in batches or all at once? Did you ever pull back and revise your query and/or your manuscript, and if so, why did you decide to do that?

AH: So I originally wrote and queried AIR PIRATES as an adult novel then, after about 50 rejections there, revised it as YA. There are a LOT more YA agents than adult SF/F, and I knew very little about most of them, so I ended up sending out 140 more queries (do I wish I had sent fewer? Oh, yes). I most definitely sent them in batches.

I tweaked the query occasionally (like if I got feedback from, say, an Agent's Inbox contest), but for the most part I made sure my query was as good as I could make it even before I queried the adult version. I'd already made the mistake with my first (trunked) novel of sending a lame query to my top agents. I wasn't about to do that again.

KV: How did you learn about Ms. Lawrence?

AH: About four days before she offered representation ;-) I first heard about Tricia when Ammi-Joan Paquette, whom I actually queried, passed on my manuscript but said the newest agent at her agency might be interested.

As it turns out, I couldn't have queried Tricia even if I wanted to. For one, Erin Murphy Literary doesn't accept unsolicited queries (Ammi-Joan contacted me after reading my entry in one of Nathan Bransford's contests), but more than that, Tricia wasn't an agent until after I'd sent out my last query letter.

KV: Ms. Lawrence, when you received the referral for Mr. Heine's manuscript, what caught your attention?

TL: Ammi-Joan Paquette, my fellow agent, forwarded me Adam's query and manuscript and told me that she was so, so, so, so close, but it wasn't quite for her and would I be interested in taking a look. I took a look and was immediately intrigued. The first chapter alone makes you want to know what in heck is going on in this story. Joan also sent it to my boss, Erin Murphy, who immediately said that she would definitely take a look after me, if I decided to pass (yes, I got first dibs! and I'm so happy!). So, what got my attention? An excellent referral, and a fantastic first chapter.

KV: Obviously, the manuscript met--or exceeded--your expectations. What did you love about AIR PIRATES?

TL: I loved that I cared immediately for the main characters and that the writing gave me perfect details--just enough to get me to read, but not so many that I didn't have to use my own brain to imagine it in my head. Plus, I loved the idea of air pirates. Who wouldn't? And in Adam's version, we've got Jack Sparrow and Malcolm Reynolds and Gandalf the White all wrapped up together in a bow.

KV: How quickly did you read Mr. Heine’s manuscript? Is that pretty typical of your response times on requested material, or do those vary?

TL: I read very quickly (within two or three weeks) and that is not typical at all. Our typical response times on requested full manuscripts is about four months, but I am attempting to improve on that. We're always attempting to improve response times; it's our constant resolution, New Year's or not. Agents and editors are deluged; that's just the plain truth.

KV: Mr. Heine, now that you’ve reached the querying finish line, what do you wish you had known when you were back at the start gate?

AH: I wish I'd known the third query I sent out would be the one ;-)

Seriously, I wish I could've been smarter about who I queried. For a lot of agents, there's only so much information out there, and I didn't want to limit my options by not querying someone, but if I could do it again, I'd make a short list (you know, like less than a 100) of agents I actually wanted instead of querying everyone under the sun. (Then again, I don't think I could've made that list until now, so I don't know what to tell you).

KV: Ms. Lawrence, what querying tips do you have?

TL: A query should interest me so that I ask for more material. Your promotional plans and your previously published work doesn't really matter until I've seen your writing. Show your stuff in a query; write what you think should go on a book jacket if your book was on shelves, or what Amazon gives as the blurb when they are selling your book. Interest one person and you just may interest a wider audience!

KV: Any last words of advice or encouragement you’d like to share with us?

AH: Don't let rejections discourage you for more than a day (for easy ones) or maybe a week (for hard ones). The pain does go away, and you can use it as motivation to do better next time.

TL: If this is your dream, do everything you can to get it. Read, read, read. Study, study, study. Practice, practice, practice. Submit, submit, submit. Don't give up. Dig deep!

And there you have it! Thank you, Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Heine, for sharing your insights and experience with us. You’ve given us a lot to think about.

I’m sure all you YA and MG writers wish you could query Ms. Lawrence, so take a nod from Mr. Heine: Participate in the online writing community. Share tiny pieces of your work through contests and other forums. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a bite.

Have a great weekend, all!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Coming Soon

I’ve been trying to come up with an obligatory New Year’s post for a few days now, but nothing’s come to mind, so I’ll just fire a few random thoughts at you instead.

First off, I wanted to share this article with you, “Living the Abundant Life,” from Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s the best New Year’s thought I’ve got, and so much of it applies to writing (not to mention querying). I especially liked these lines:

“Courage is required to make an initial thrust toward one’s coveted goal, but even greater courage is called for when one stumbles and must make a second effort to achieve.

“Have the determination to make the effort, the single-mindedness to work toward a worthy goal, and the courage not only to face the challenges that inevitably come but also to make a second effort, should such be required. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’”

Next, I have another interview for you, this one our fifth installment of “Agent-Author Chat.” Fellow blogger Adam Heine and his new agent, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency, agreed to come on the blog and answer a few questions about how they came to be a team. Watch for that post to go up this Friday.

Lastly, in case you haven’t heard, I’m having a baby, like, next week. Exactly one week from today, Honey Bear and I will welcome Baby Number Three to our family and the world. (That is the one good thing about having C-sections: their predictability.) So I’ll be taking the next couple of months off. I’ll definitely post something about the birth, but after that, I’m not planning to blog again until sometime this spring, probably in April.

But have no fear! I already have a handful of agents waiting in the wings to do interviews and judge more rounds of “An Agent’s Inbox,” so when we come back in April, we’ll pick up right where we left off. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to figure out this whole taking-care-of-three-kids thing.

Happy New Year!